BERNE – And there we had it. The first Victoria Cup, where the best European team took on the NHL in a country that’s famous for its neutrality. The New York Rangers wrote their name into the hockey history, with a 4-3 win over Metallurg Magnitogorsk.
With the emergence of the KHL in Russia this season, the meeting had a whole new undertone.
"All the stuff that's been going on off the ice is outside the team. We have a lot of respect for their guys out there, and vice versa," Scott Gomez said after the game.
The arena was red, white, and blue, but not the kind that Ranger's coach Tom Renney might have anticipated as hundreds of Metallurg fans travelled to Switzerland for the historic game. Their team, dressed in white, started the game focused and with a lot of energy.
On the second shift, the Rangers lost the puck in the offensive zone, giving Denis Platonov an open lane all the way to the Rangers zone. He took a step inside, and just as a New York defenceman tried to stop him, he fired a wrist shot from the top of the circle, sending the puck to the top shelf of the goal, past Henrik Lundqvist.
The goal sent shock waves through the arena.
"I started pretty bad, I think the second half was pretty good. I'm trying to get back to the same feeling I had last year, but it's not quite there yet. I felt good at the warmup, but wasn't ready when the game started," Lundqvist said.
While the Rangers controlled the game, their three penalties gave Metallurg a chance to push the Blueshirts to their heels. At 18:07, Vladimir Malenkikh took a pass from the faceoff circle, and fired a slapshot that slipped in, under Lundqvist’s arm.
The Rangers had a good start in the second period with two early powerplays, but Andrei Mezin in Metallurg’s cage turned away all Rangers’ shots. After two periods, Lundqvist’s save percentage was .840, Mezin’s .960.
"They're a very good team and they got the lead we didn't want to give them," said Markus Näslund.
"They showed everybody that European hockey is good, especially on the big ice surface. They had speed and a lot of individual talent, but we stuck with it and in the end, got the result we wanted. It's not easy to come back from 3-0 against them, I am really proud of our team," he added.
Halfway through the second period, Metallurg scored on a powerplay. Jan Marek sent the puck top the point to Vitali Atyushov, who fired a slapshot which Nikolai Zavarukhin deflected into the net through Lundqvist’s five-hole.
In the last minute of the second period, the Rangers had a two-man advantage and broke the scoring silence. They moved the puck across the zone, and finally sent it to Chris Drury, who had parked himself in front of the net, beating Mezin.
The Rangers were determined to turn the game around in the third period.
"The way the game turned out was great for us. It'll make us stronger. The last period was outstanding," said Lundqvist.
"We did some tactical adjustments for the last period. I think our guys really identified with the system tonight," Rangers coach Tom Renney said.
At 45:45, Dan Fritsche took a pass from Michal Roszival right at the blueline, he skated towards the net and fired a slapshot behind Mezin, who stopped 40 shots in the game, including several phantom saves where his glove seemed to appear from nowhere.
"The second goal was my fault. Their player scored from a bad angle which I hadn't covered," said disappointed Mezin after the game.
But not at 50:13, when Scott Gomez took a wrist shot from the top of the left faceoff circle on the power play, Mezin left a rebound, and Drury, again right in front of the net, grabbed it and sent the puck to the back of the net.
The last ten minutes of the game were intense. Every pass, every shot, every bounce mattered. And then. With 20 second left, Ryan Callahan intercepted a Metallurg pass from Malenkikh and found himself on a breakaway which he didn't miss.
"I thought he might go for a pass, and he did try to pass it to the other defenceman," said Callahan.
"We also lost concentration in the third period. You can't do that against the New York Rangers. They play Canadian style hockey and will always fight for the win. We learned that the hard way today," Mezin said.
Callahan didn't hesitate when given the scoring chance.
"I saw the goalie was out a little bit so I faked a shot, and walked around him," he said.
He sent Mezin to one post, the puck in by the other, and himself into hockey history.
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New York Rangers forward Chris Drury scored two goals against Metallurg Magnitogorsk. Photo: Getty Images/Vladimir Rys